Turning a policy into a story

TURNING A POLICY INTO A STORY…. In the ’90s, President Clinton was always really good at connecting policy debates to actual people. Republicans didn’t just want to cut Medicare and hurt million of seniors, he’d say, they want to cut Medicare for Mary Johnson in Cincinnati, whose story the president was anxious to tell.

I think President Obama is getting better at this. Today’s weekly address, for example, is all about investments in clean energy, which the White House sees as a key engine of economic growth and environmental responsibility, and which Republicans want to scrap at the behest of oil company lobbyists. The point, of course, is to reinforce a campaign message — a vote for the GOP would take the country in the wrong direction.

But what struck me about the message was the anecdote, not the argument. The president noted that, for far too long, we’ve increased our dependence on foreign oil, while allowing new energy technologies and high-skilled jobs go overseas, instead of the United States. The Obama administration has begun making investments to turn this around.

That’s all true, and it’s important. But then came the real-world story Obama was anxious to share:”This month, in the Mojave Desert, a company called BrightSource plans to break ground on a revolutionary new type of solar power plant. It’s going to put about a thousand people to work building a state-of-the-art facility. And when it’s complete, it will turn sunlight into the energy that will power up to 140,000 homes — the largest such plant in the world. Not in China. Not in India. But in California.”

“With projects like this one, and others across this country, we are staking our claim to continued leadership in the new global economy. And we’re putting Americans to work producing clean, home-grown American energy that will help lower our reliance on foreign oil and protect our planet for future generations.

“Now there are some in Washington who want to shut them down. In fact, in the Pledge they recently released, the Republican leadership is promising to scrap all the incentives for clean energy projects, including those currently underway — even with all the jobs and potential that they hold.

“This doesn’t make sense for our economy. It doesn’t make sense for Americans who are looking for jobs. And it doesn’t make sense for our future. To go backwards and scrap these plans means handing the competitive edge to China and other nations.It means that we’ll grow even more dependent on foreign oil. And, at a time of economic hardship, it means forgoing jobs we desperately need.”

Republicans don’t really deny any of this. The investments that make the BrightSource plant possible constitute “government spending” and maybe even “socialism,” so the GOP is content to let this technology be built in Asia instead of the U.S. We don’t need a forward-thinking energy policy, Republicans say, we need tax cuts, drilling, and deregulation of the oil industry.

We’re left, then, with a story for voters to consider: if you want the BrightSource plant and others like it to thrive on American soil, the argument goes, then you’ll have to make the right choice on Nov. 2.